New York state Assembly Democrats are getting ready to vote on a bill that would eliminate the single test, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), required for admission to specialized high schools like Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science.
What is the Specialized High School Admissions Test?
Students in eighth or ninth grade who want to apply to one of the city's eight specialized high schools — Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn Technical High School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical High School, and Stuyvesant High School — must take the exam.
The 180-minute test scores potential students based on English Language Arts and math. Test-takers are then ranked based on their scores for the number of questions they answer correctly. If admitted, the student is assigned to a specialized high school based on how he or she ranked the school on the application, the priority the student assigned to the school, and the seats available.
Tens of thousands of students apply to the schools every year for 5,000 seats.
Who is pushing the bill to scrap SHSAT?
The bill is a top priority for Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Assemblyman Charles Barron is the sponsor.
"Basically, it would phase out the exam because we are looking at an education system where only nine percent of black and Latino children enter into these specialized high schools, yet blacks and Latinos are nearly 70 percent of the educational system," the Brooklyn lawmaker said.
More immediately, the mayor said the city is taking action on its own by expanding a program, the Discovery Program, to help low-income students gain entry to these top high schools. 20 percent of seats at specialized high schools will be set aside for students from high-poverty middle schools who fall slightly short of the admissions test cut-off.
"Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won't be blocked from a great educational opportunity," the mayor wrote in an op-ed that was published Saturday in the education website Chalkbeat.
The mayor has called the exam flawed and pointed to socioeconomic barriers — such as families not being able to afford tutors or test preparation courses — putting students from poorer families at a disadvantage in their efforts to be admitted to the specialized schools.
Is there enough support in the state Assembly?
But while there appears to be enough support for the bill to pass the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday, some members have been quietly working against it behind the scenes.
The majority of students in many of the specialized high schools are Asian. Yuh-Line Niou is one of only two Asian-American members of the Assembly.
"I actually don't like that Asian-American students are kind of put in the middle here," the Manhattan lawmaker said. "They are being used to be pit against other minority groups, which I don't think is appropriate."
"I don't know what the outcome of the bill is. We will see what happens tomorrow," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. "We are just letting it happen organically as to the outcome of the vote in the committee."
Can the bill pass in the state Senate?
Whatever happens in the Assembly, the bill's fate in the state Senate is far less certain. The upper chamber descended into chaos Tuesday with the Democratic lieutenant governor presiding as the tiebreaker over an even split between Republicans and Democrats and no clear majority.
"That's wrong. That's against the rules," Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican, said to Kathy Hochul during the legislative session. "I'm giving you one last opportunity to do what you are supposed to do as a presiding officer."
The Assembly Education Committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday. It would then need to clear the Ways and Means Committee before the full Assembly can vote.